The Orlando Magic cruised to a crucial 117-96 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in their Eastern Conference Semifinal series. Boston's lackluster D--arguably its worst effort of the year--allowed the Magic's starting frontcourt of Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, and Dwight Howard to combine for 69 points on a blistering 24-of-37 from the field. They did more than score, though: Lewis had 6 boards, Turkoglu dished a team-high 4 assists, and Howard grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked 5 shots. In addition, point guard Anthony Johnson filled in admirably for the suspended Rafer Alston, picking his spots wisely and shooting efficiently en rout to a 13-point outing. Paul Pierce and Eddie House were the only Celtics who had it going offensively, scoring 42 points on 22 shots.
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Before going any further, I want to compliment Hedo Turkoglu on what might have been his finest game in a Magic uniform. He came up big, to say the least: 24 points, 8-of-12 shooting from the field, 6-of-7 shooting from the free throw line, 4 assists, 1 turnover, great decisions. He helped key Orlando's drive-and-kick game, and took smart shots within the flow of the offense. Outstanding effort from Turk, who can proudly add tonight's game film to his free-agent resume.
Tonight, the Magic gave the same dominant, tip-to-horn effort they did in Game 6 of the first round against the Philadelphia 76ers, in which they closed that team out. Everyone contributed. ESPN commentators Dave Pasch and Jon Barry thought Alston's suspension fueled the team to victory, but I disagree: the combination of a boisterous home crowd and Courtney Lee's triumphant return from a fractured sinus were more significant intangibles. It also helped that Lee played well, hounding Ray Allen defensively while contributing 11 points offensively in 32 bench minutes. As I pointed out at halftime, the Magic were aggressive early on with several assertive drives to the basket against a stunningly porous Celtics defense. They did not shoot from the perimeter too well in the early going, but it hardly mattered given the rate at which they got to the rim. So when they warmed up from the outside in the second half, connecting on 7 treys, they almost ended any hopes the Celtics had of stealing the game.
It did get dicey toward the end of the third period, though. Howard gave Celtics forward Brian Scalabrine a little too much forearm while jostling with him for post position, picking up his 4th personal foul and forcing him to the bench. Boston wasted no time rallying as Marcin Gortat replaced Howard in the middle, scoring on 7 of its next 8 possessions to cut its deficit to 9 at the period's end. Rajon Rondo punctuated the comeback bid with a steal and breakaway dunk. Tempers flared as Orlando headed to the huddle, with Johnson--who threw the errant pass--exchanging words with coach Stan Van Gundy. Johnson did not start the fourth quarter, nor did he enter the game in garbage time, despite his solid play at that juncture and his team's leading by a mere 9 points. Boston surging, Howard in foul trouble, and tension on the sidelines... that could have been a disaster.
Fortunately, it wasn't. The Celtics were helpless to stop the Magic in the fourth period. Turkoglu and Lewis carried their team to victory, scoring 19 of the Magic's next 20 points in just 5:42 of game time. Boston did not contest Orlando's shots well enough, which allowed the Magic's star forwards to catch fire from the perimeter. Victory did not appear to be assured until Lewis found Gortat under the rim for an emphatic two-handed slam to give Orlando a 105-87 lead with 4:22 to play. After a beautiful shot fake on Orlando's next possession, Lewis connected on a foul-line jumper to put the lead back at 20--exactly where it was when Howard picked up his 4th foul--and Doc Rivers called timeout in order to pull his starters.
Orlando has every right to feel good about this win, which it certainly earned. It was almost a flawless win, with turnovers standing out as a negative. Orlando threw some lazy passes tonight, in addition to its usual offensive fouls and travels. Other than that, though, the Magic got almost whatever they wanted offensively, outworked the Celtics consistently, and looked like the superior team for 44 of the game's 48 minutes. With Turkoglu and Lewis fully engaged offensively, and with Howard dominating defensively, the Magic are almost impossible to beat. If they play Game 4 with the same effort level, they'll likely find themselves headed to Boston with a 3-1 lead heading into Game 5, even if the Celtics sharpen up.
However, the Magic can't bank on using the "momentum" they gained with tonight's huge victory to their advantage in Game 4. The Celtics had "momentum" after their huge Game 2 win. Ask them how that worked out tonight.